Quick question for those of you raising an adolescent or teenager: Have you ever noticed your teen making good decisions and being mature one minute, then acting irrational, emotional and immature the next? I’m guessing most of you were nodding your head “yes” as you read this. Well, you are not alone, and it’s not just normal, it’s to be expected. Too often we hear people using that catch-all phrase “They’re just a teenager” which can lead to either misunderstandings, fighting, strain on the relationship, your teen feeling more angry or sad. All of this to say, they don’t like what’s happening to them almost as much as you don’t, they don’t often want to be so irrational or emotional, but the truth is:
Their brain is still under construction.
To give you an idea, by the time they’re six, their brains are already about 90-95% of adult size. But the brain still needs a lot of remodeling before it can function as an adult brain. Adolescence is a time of significant growth and development inside the teenage brain, continuing into their mid-twenties. The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is remodeled last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain, responsible for your child’s ability to plan, make choices and think about the consequences of actions, impulse control, solve problems. Changes in this part continue into early adulthood.
Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behavior. This is why you may notice your teen’s thinking and behavior being mature one moment, and then completely illogical, impulsive or overly emotional the next moment. The back-to-front development of the brain is the reason for the shifts in mood and behavior, teenagers are working with brains that are still under construction!
Now, all of this is not to excuse their behavior, an important part of healthy brain development is to learn about things like impulse control, regulating emotions, making choices, consequences to actions etc… This is where you come in, your role is so important during this time of brain development, teaching them about healthy risks and how to understand their emotions, being patient with them in moments that you now understand are coming from a place of not being fully developed yet. With patience and understanding, balanced with teaching, guidance and loving correction, your teen has a better chance of their brain developing healthy.